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SAN JOSE: A Chilean emergency worker successfully descended into the San Jose mine late Tuesday, greeting 33 men who have been trapped below ground for nearly 10 weeks as a dramatic rescue bid unfolded.
Manuel Gonzalez became the first person to see the miners in person since they were trapped 69 days ago by an August 5 cave-in.
He arrived among the excited men just 15 minutes after stepping into a slim rescue capsule at the surface that descended 622 metres down into the earth.
Florencio Avalos, a 31-year-old athletic father of two, was Tuesday chosen by Chilean officials to be the first miner brought to the surface after a 10-week ordeal.
He will be followed by Mario Sepulveda, 40, an electrical specialist, Juan Illanes, 52, and then by Carlos Mamani, 23, the only Bolivian in the group of the 33 trapped miners, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said at the mine.
That order was a change to one given earlier to AFP by a government source that did not include Illanes.
Avalos's family said they were overjoyed that their relative would be the first to exit the mine, but stressed Florencio would have to leave behind his brother, Renan Avalos, among the other trapped miners to be winched up later.
The two brothers were among the 33 who got caught in the mine when it collapsed August 5, beginning an unprecedented underground ordeal.
Alberto Avalos, uncle to the two, told AFP the family was relieved they would soon be hugging Florencio.
"It's fantastic. Imagine that he's first; he'll be the first to make declarations. We are very happy," he said.
But, he added: "It's a very tough thing, to leave your brother below. He will carry out his orders."
"I'm sure he didn't want that (to be first). He would have liked to see all the others go, with him last."
Alberto said he believed Florencio was chosen because he was second in charge of the miners, "very rational," a "total gentleman" who carried out orders to the letter.
He is also an athletic man, who loves playing football with his two children, aged seven and 17. The older son came with his wife, Monica, and he adopted him when he married her. The younger one is the couple's biological child.
Renan, 29, did not figure among the first few to pulled up. His limited medical experience has turned him into the miners' "doctor."
Alberto Avalos said he could not wait to see both Florencio and Renan again.
"I would like to see both together... I want to hug both of them," he said.
Officials said the first men they would send up would be the ones considered the most capable, the ones best able to cope with the stress of being separated from the group and overcoming any problems encountered on their trip to the surface.
The weaker ones, or the ones with physical or mental conditions, would follow later, with the strongest willed ones, those best able to cope with the wait, bringing up the rear.
The shift supervisor, Luis Urzua, 54, is strongly believed to be the one who is likely to come up last, a sort of captain leaving the ship last.
Mario Sepulveda stood out among the group for playing presenter in videos sent to the surface on small consumer cameras sent to them. Florencio was the main cameraman.
Illanes was a veteran of a 1978 border conflict that threatened to escalate between Chile and Argentina. Like all the first four chosen, he is married.
Carlos Mamani is the only Bolivian in the group.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, expected to arrive early Wednesday to greet Mamani, Pinera said.
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